Why I don’t like “Happy Mother’s Day: Mothers Lie”

13 May

The essay is structured as “you were pregnant. You had hopes and dreams. Then you got a shock–your kid wasn’t what you hoped for.”

Why do we keep telling parents that story? The only reason there is a shock is because we don’t remind parents that disability is real. And that the dream lives on–having a family, loving a child. It isn’t disloyal to the parents or the child to accept the possibility that a child will be born or acquire a disability. And it would help child and parents if we as a people did this more.

A list I joined a long time ago is run by someone very active in the anti-vaccine/fake-cure movement. And every year I get sent the “inspirational” essay: Happy Mother’s Day: Mothers Lie. I truly dislike that essay.

I’ll put it below.

The short version of why I dislike this essay has to do with this one phrase:

You didn’t volunteer for this

Let me add another phrase from the essay:

You’re a woman who doesn’t have time to step back and put things in perspective

I’m a father, not a mother, but allow me to use my own experience. Having a disabled child has forced me to put things in perspective. It took years, and help from a lot of people. Shan, I’m thinking of you and other parents, but mostly from adult autistics.

So, with all that time and help, here’s my perspective for our family. The truth of the matter is we did volunteer for this. “This” as in: we decided to have a child. Perspective means I’ve stripped this down to the basics. We volunteered to have a child. And we were lucky enough to get a child. We are lucky enough that our child is alive. I’m lucky my wife survived pregnancy. I wanted a child I could love. I wanted a child I could try to help find their own identity, their own way, their own life. To help them pursue happiness, on their own terms.

Ms. Borgman, I appreciate what you were trying to do with this piece. I really do. But a lot of parents never get past the “what I hoped for was…” phase. Hitting mothers with this every year doesn’t really help. In the autism community we see parents who never accept who their child is, and focus on who their child was “supposed” to be. What the parents hoped for. They focus much of their energy in anti-vaccine action, because they are convinced that autism is “vaccine injury”. They become targets for charlatans selling all sorts of fake and even abusive “therapies”, because they want to “recover” their child. Note the term: recover. They aren’t trying to treat a condition, they are trying to regain what they feel they have lost.

Believe me, I am in awe of mothers. My wife especially. She had a better perspective on disability before we had children than I had even after our child was diagnosed.

It’s great to hope and dream. I’ve never stopped. But we need to ground our future parents before diagnoses as to what to expect. And that acceptance is a very valid option. That being the parent of a disabled child is more challenging, but it doesn’t require a super power.

In my opinion our culture needs to reassess how we view and discuss disability. And how we view the hopes and responsibilities of starting a family. Here’s a simple example of what I mean–I did a quick search on the site for the famous book “what to expect when you are expecting”. I used the term “disability”. Here’s what I got:

Here’s what I noticed–the first two hits are for (1) having a child while disabled and (2) disability insurance for maternity leave. Only when we get to (3) are we seeing disability for the child. And this is under “first year”. We really need to be educating people about disability before pregnancy. During pregnancy. You can’t fully prepare for the news that your child is disabled. But, then again, you can’t fully prepare for life with any child. What you can do is do some preparation.

You may be thinking that I’m saying “don’t encourage parents to hope.” Far from it. But hope and acceptance are both good things.

Another way to look at it is this. The essay is structured as “you were pregnant. You had hopes and dreams. Then you got a shock–your kid wasn’t what you hoped for.”

Why do we keep telling parents that story? The only reason there is a shock is because we don’t remind parents that disability is real. And that the dream lives on–having a family, loving a child. It isn’t disloyal to the parents or the child to accept the possibility that a child will be born or acquire a disability. And it would help child and parents if we as a people did this more.

Here are the sorts of corrections I’d suggest. First this phrase:

“Every mother wants a baby that can see, hear, run, jump and fire neurons by the billions.”

Perhaps this version wouldn’t change your story that much?

Every Mother wants a baby. Full stop. Remember that, you wanted a baby. You hoped that your baby would be able to see, hear, run, jump and fire neurons by the billions. But you knew that your child might be disabled.

I would change the last paragraph from:

You are the mother, advocate and protector of a child with a disability.
You’re a neighbor, a friend, a woman I pass at church and my sister-in-law.
You’re a wonder.

to something like:

You weren’t fully prepared for this. You are the mother. You are an advocate and protector of a child with a disability.
You’re a neighbor, a friend, a woman I pass at church and my sister-in-law.
You’re a wonder.
But, most of all, you are a mother.

Actually, I’d probably not use “you’re a wonder”, but I did say I am in awe of mothers. So there’s that. But the whole “you’re a wonder” message makes expectant parents think, “maybe I’m not up to the task.”

I don’t usually like it when people tell me how to write, or what to write about. I’m not suggesting you rewrite. But perhaps take a look at what these changes do to the message. Let’s move away from our society’s ideal that it is somehow romantic to look back on when we were naive and ignorant about our children possibly being disabled. That leads to regret and holding on to a feeling of loss. And that leads some parents into a very bad place. It keeps some parents from ever accepting their child’s disability. Perhaps you don’t know, but there is a segment of the autism parent community that thinks acceptance is a bad thing. Boggles the mind, but it’s true.

If nothing else, I can say that it would have helped me a great deal if we had changed the message long ago. Before I had kids.


By Matt Carey

here’s the essay:

Happy Mother’s Day: Mothers Lie

By Lori Borgman

Expectant mothers waiting for a newborn’s arrival say they don’t care what sex the baby is. They just want to have ten fingers and ten toes.

Mothers lie.

Every mother wants so much more.
She wants a perfectly healthy baby with a round head, rosebud lips, button nose, beautiful eyes and satin skin.
She wants a baby so gorgeous that people will pity the Gerber baby for being flat-out ugly.

She wants a baby that will roll over, sit up and take those first steps right on schedule (according to the baby development chart on page 57, column two).
Every mother wants a baby that can see, hear, run, jump and fire neurons by the billions.
She wants a kid that can smack the ball out of the park and do toe points that are the envy of the entire ballet class.
Call it greed if you want, but a mother wants what a mother wants.

Some mothers get babies with something more.

Maybe you’re one who got a baby with a condition you couldn’t pronounce, a spine that didn’t fuse, a missing chromosome or a palate that didn’t close.
The doctor’s words took your breath away.
It was just like the time at recess in the fourth grade when you didn’t see the kick ball coming, and it knocked the wind right out of you.

Some of you left the hospital with a healthy bundle, then, months, even years later, took him in for a routine visit, or scheduled him for a checkup, and crashed head first into a brick wall as you bore the brunt of devastating news.
It didn’t seem possible.
That didn’t run in your family.
Could this really be happening in your lifetime?

There’s no such thing as a perfect body.
Everybody will bear something at some time or another.
Maybe the affliction will be apparent to curious eyes, or maybe it will be unseen, quietly treated with trips to the doctor, therapy or surgery.
Mothers of children with disabilities live the limitations with them.

Frankly, I don’t know how you do it.
Sometimes you mothers scare me.
How you lift that kid in and out of the wheelchair twenty times a day.
How you monitor tests, track medications, and serve as the gatekeeper to a hundred specialists yammering in your ear.

I wonder how you endure the clichés and the platitudes, the well-intentioned souls explaining how God is at work when you’ve occasionally questioned if God is on strike.
I even wonder how you endure schmaltzy columns like this one-saluting you, painting you as hero and saint, when you know you’re ordinary.
You snap, you bark, you bite.
You didn’t volunteer for this, you didn’t jump up and down in the motherhood line yelling,
“Choose me, God. Choose me! I’ve got what it takes.”

You’re a woman who doesn’t have time to step back and put things in perspective, so let me do it for you. From where I sit, you’re way ahead of the pack.
You’ve developed the strength of the draft horse while holding onto the delicacy of a daffodil.
You have a heart that melts like chocolate in a glove box in July, counter-balanced against the stubbornness of an Ozark mule.

You are the mother, advocate and protector of a child with a disability.
You’re a neighbor, a friend, a woman I pass at church and my sister-in-law.
You’re a wonder.

3 Responses to “Why I don’t like “Happy Mother’s Day: Mothers Lie””

  1. Chris May 13, 2019 at 22:05 #

    As another perspective: I never volunteered to have a parent die in a vehicular accident as I entered puberty, and get a step-parent much too soon. Yes, it was tough, but you learn how to cope and roll with the punches. Whining about what happened is not going to make it go away, the only thing you can do is learn from it to make things better for others.

    Things I learned from my experience is that I never told my kids that I would always be there for them, because that is a promise that could be snapped away with on unfortunate roll of the longevity dice. Also, we have made sure to have a will, a trust and other things to make things easier for our kids (who are fortunately all adults).

    Bad things happen, don’t throw a pity party, roll with with the punches and learn how to make it better. I looked for things that would help my kid be the best version of himself, not something different.

    By the way, I also hate the “Welcome to Holland” essay. While I know it is all about acceptance, it is just that we are of Dutch descent and really liked visiting the Netherlands. Really did not want to go to Italy. 😉

  2. doritmi May 15, 2019 at 05:25 #

    When it comes to children, we go in knowing there are things we cannot control.

    At least, we should.

  3. Madeleine May 18, 2019 at 06:48 #

    I have certainly found it much easier to change the way I feel about things my child does (not sleep, enjoy bus tunnels, play the same CD for months) and accept them than to get upset or annoyed about them. I want him to be contented. Being able to run, jump etc, if that makes it easier for him to experience life, is great, so I want those things for that reason. Anything that is a challenge though, I accept as being how it is, because lamenting another, fictitious existence will only make me enjoy my life less.

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